Staying Healthy In An Exotic Land

If you are planning trip to somewhere other than a western country, you need to be prepared to make some alterations in your normal routines in order to ensure that you stay healthy and don’t end up getting sick.  The World Bank estimates that 21% of the communicable disease in India, for example, are related to unsafe water, and each day 1,600 people die from diarrhea alone.  Your best line of defense is to follow a certain protocol each day and use it consistently for the duration of your trip.

  1. Before you leave, visit a doctor or clinic that specializes in travel.  Most cities have such a clinic.  Many are associated with universities.  Be fully aware of your vaccination history and find out what additional vaccines you may need.  It is also recommended that you ask for a prescription for a general antibiotic, should you get sick while traveling.
  2. On the night before you leave, cut your fingernails and toenails.  The amount of bacteria and general filth that can collect under your nails is surprising, if not down right shocking!  Keeping them cut down will limit your exposure to such nasties, so take a set of clippers and cut them again every few days.
  3. Bring a bandana or scarf to wear around your neck at all times and be conscious of it being there.  This is a terrific and easy way to wipe your face, rub your eye or scratch your nose without actually having to touch your face and therefore transfer germs from your hand to delicate tissues that can work against you, making you sick.
  4. Take your supplies with you everywhere you go.  A small backpack is a great way to carry your camera or jacket, but it should also include the essentials you may need during a day of exploring.  Sunscreen, and mosquito repellant bug spray should be included, as well as drinking straws (see #5), hand sanitizer, an anti-diarrheal medication, and baby wipes.  Yes, baby wipes are an essential.  They serve two functions.  First, toilet paper is often very different than what is found in the West, that is, if you can find it at all.  Second, using them on your face, neck and arms when it’s hot, is an excellent way to cool you off, and they can be at terrific way to remove the dirt from your hands and feet, should you walk barefooted (as many temples in Asia require guests to do).
  5. NEVER put your mouth on anything you aren’t completely sure is safe.  Use a straw in every drink you buy, and never drink fountain drinks.  Request a canned or bottled drink instead.  The reason for this, again is the water.  If the glass was recently washed and had water left in it when your drink was poured in, you run the risk of getting sick.  Similarly, the outside of a can or bottled drink can have contaminants on it as well.  A straw can help you remain healthy.  There is another option of course – one that most locals use, but it does take a bit of practice.  Throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, people have developed the skill of opening a drink, tilting their heads back, raising the drink above their heads and pouring the drink out, one mouthful at a time.  This does take a bit of practice for those unaccustomed to it, so either practice before you leave home, or be prepared to wear more of your drink than you swallow.
  6. Be extraordinarily careful of the food you eat.  DO NOT eat street food.  Street vendors certainly add color to photos and your experience, but often the food is not cooked or kept properly, and if eaten, you run a significant risk of getting sick.  Similarly, be careful of the restaurants in which you eat.  If a restaurant gives you any reason to hesitate, avoid it.  Certain establishments tend to cater to westerners, and do not want their reputations hurt by making their guests sick, and these tend to be safer.  Even so, understand that there is always a risk when traveling in more exotic parts of the world.
  7. Finally, have a plan in place should you become seriously sick.  Check with your insurance provided to see what coverage you may have, and what options are available to you, and plan accordingly.




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